Monday, 4 December 2017

Teachers sexually abusing their students

Much of the information I have written in this article, I got from reading a large article prepared by Victoria Gibson and Vjosa Isai of the Toronto Star.

When I was a student going to school (1938/1951) I never heard of any school teacher sexually abusing any of my fellow students. Believe me, if it was happening, we students would have heard about it. The schools I went to were primarily Protestant schools. I did go to one Catholic boarding school. I mention this because even before that last century, priests were sexually abusing children under their care while they were going to school. However, in the Catholic school I went to, none of the Catholic Brothers sexually abused any of the students.

I read about a case where two male school teachers,(aged 44 and 56) were having sex with the same 15-year-old girl who later became  four months pregnant with one of her male teacher’s child.

A 32-year-old male teacher was hired by an elementary school even though he was already facing more than two dozen felony counts including thirteen counts of lewd acts on a child, eight counts of kidnapping, forcible oral copulation, forcible sodomy on a child, sending lewd material to a minor online and dissuading a witness. Further,   a 41-year-old female teacher was charged with  having sex with several male middle school (Junior High) students. She was charged with second-degree rape, second-degree sexual abuse and second-degree sodomy of a male student.  

It is known for a fact that for the most part, female teachers who are charged with sexually abusing male students exceeds the number of male teachers being charged. I will not attempt to explain why that is so common with female teachers because I don’t know where to begin.

In many cases, the families are devastated at the light sentences these predators receive, and that is, if the perpetrators even get jail time. In many other cases, school officials are accused of not being vigilant in following up on complaints that the abuse is happening in the first place.

If you count on the mainstream media for most of your information, you might be under the mistaken impression that teacher sexual abuse of students is nothing more than an occasional problem. Although the heinous stories do not seem to make it past the local media, these abuses are rampant around the world. If you had to guess, how often would you say teachers were engaging in inappropriate sexual activity with their students? Would you guess three or four times a year? Or, would you even go higher? Although the mainstream media is eerily quiet about the phenomenon, the truth is that sex between teachers and students is outrageously common In fact, it is an epidemic.

In August, 2014, Quebec Justice Valmont Beaulieu stated the obvious when he addressed the subject of the double standard in the treatment of teachers who have sex with students. He said during the sentencing of a female teacher, “The sexual exploitation of a male adolescent by a female teacher must be punished just the same as a male posing the same actions toward a female adolescent.”

He then sentenced Tania Pontbriand to 20 and a 18-month jail terms to be served concurrently, plus two years probation. The former high school gym teacher from Rosemère, Quebec had been found guilty of sexual exploitation and sexual assault of a male student with whom she had a two-year relationship

The trial made headlines internationally. Its details were tawdry and disturbing and revealed how the then 30-year-old Pontbriand acted as mentor, confidante and sexual aggressor to the 15-year-old. She gained the trust of the teenager, when they exchanged intimate details during a 2002 school cycling trip. He described the pain he felt after his parents’ divorced. He was vulnerable at this stage of his life.

She told him that her marriage was a mistake. When the student returned home, he told his mother he had a “new best friend.”

Pontbriand initiated sex with the boy soon after on a private trip approved by his mother to help him with his problems. It was the first of some 300 sexual liaisons that took place on school trips, private getaways, at his home and her home. The teacher bought the boy a cellphone after his mother tried to shut down communication between the two. Evidence shown to the court included coded messages left in the student’s locker and gifts such as the engraved dog tags the teacher gave the student after their first sexual encounter.

In a written statement, the student stated that Pontbriand ended it after he entered CEGEP, (Quebec’s education system) saying she’d met someone new. He went to police in 2007 after being expelled. He later claimed the relationship left him depressed and suicidal. The victim, then in his 20s, said a psychiatrist helped him understand he’d missed out on normal dating rituals. Pontbriand, later a mother of two, alienated him from family and friends, he said, so as to satisfy her own egotistic and sexual desires. He said, “I was far too naive at the time to recognize her lies and manipulation.”

The judge said after he heard the boy’s testimony, “The court is convinced that the accused used the victim to satisfy her own sexual needs, thus exploiting the victim’s naïveté, his lack of maturity, his dependence and his trust.”

In Toronto in the province of Ontario, a male teacher was accused of sexually abusing his female students. He also told a high school girl that her breasts should be big enough for a handful and small enough for a mouthful. He also sexually assaulted a female worker in a school elevator.

Instead of having him criminally charged with that crime and also having his teacher’s licence revoked, he was sent to another school with no mention on his file as to what he had previously had done to his female co-worker and what he has said to a female student.

Teachers in Ontario can be transferred after their school boards find reason to discipline them, and in some of the province’s largest boards, there is no requirement to tell a new principal about the incoming teacher’s past. Surely that has to be the pinnacle of stupidity.

The Toronto Star (Canada’s largest newspaper) identified 27 cases heard by the Ontario College of Teachers, the provincial oversight and licensing body, between January 2012 and November 2017. In each case, the teacher had been investigated by their school board, disciplined, and transferred at least once by before the time when their case made it to a College hearing.

In all of the cases, the College’s disciplinary panel that is made up of publicly appointed and teacher-elected college members, substantiated allegations of sexual, physical, psychological, verbal abuse or serious misconduct by those teachers.

In 2011, the Toronto Star’s Kevin Donovan published  an investigation that found the Ontario College of Teachers shielding bad teachers from public scrutiny.

That watchdog is a self-regulatory body that chooses to grant sexual abusers anonymity after the teachers have pleaded guilty or no contest” to certain allegations filed against them.  

Just before the Toronto Star published its results, the College quietly announced the hiring of retired judge Patrick LeSage to examine how teachers were disciplined, dubbed the LeSage Review.

In the wake of the investigation, then-provincial Education Minister, Laurel Broten announced sweeping changes to the ways in which the College deals with verbally, physically and sexually abusive teachers.

Teachers charged with sexual offences will now be ineligible for dispute resolution processes and the full text of disciplinary decisions, most with their names, will be published on the College’s website.

LeSage’s review eventually led to the Protecting Students Act, introduced first in 2013, but stalled by the provincial election and was tabled in 2016.

The proposed bill to protect Ontario students is currently flawed and could see educators found guilty of serious misconduct remaining on the job for months during an appeal, and also lead to hundreds of disciplinary decisions removed from public view, according to a report by the governing body for the province’s teachers.

Michael Salvatori, CEO and registrar of the Ontario College of Teachers, said in an interview after releasing an open letter to the education minister, “When we saw the bill and noticed a few discrepancies, we met with the minister’s staff to draw their attention to the issues and hoped it would be modified,”  However, he added that little was changed. “This is perplexing for us.”

Bill 37, the Protecting Students Act, enforces stricter rules when it comes to abusive situations, automatically revoking a teacher’s certificate in cases of sexual abuse or child pornography charges, and forces all disciplinary decisions to be made publicly available.

On November 30th 2017, Education Minister, Mitzie Hunter told reporters at Queen’s Park (Legislation Building) that the bill, which she recently reintroduced, “is about ensuring that we have a fair and efficient and transparent process.”

The bill arose from a 2012 report of judge Patrick LeSage after a Toronto Star series questioned the college’s secretive rulings and disciplinary processes.

The Education Minister  said in part, ”We’ve actually followed very, very closely former chief justice Patrick LeSage’s recommendations and have put those into place,” Hunter said. “We’ve had input from all sides of this issue, ensuring that we have a bill that responds to the fairness as well as the transparency that was very clear in his report.

The bill, as it now stands, would remove 376 of 834 disciplinary decisions now available online within the next three years, the college said in its letter.

In nine of the 27 cases identified, the teachers had re-offended at their new school. Four of these teachers’ new principals knew why they were moved, through what’s called a disciplinary or administrative transfer. But it’s unclear how much the remaining 23 principals knew.

 Now teachers will not be allowed to be transferred to another school if they have been found guilty of some type of sexual misconduct or indiscretion with students,” said Nick Scarfo, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

He added, “It bothers me that these individual teachers are allowed to move to another school and start all over again.”

Thirteen of the Star’s 27 cases they investigated were from the Toronto District School Board. In one case, a teacher was given an interim assignment “outside the school,” but in others, they were simply placed in a new school.

Five of those 13 teachers re-offended, and eight are still employed by Toronto district, including two re-offenders. At least two offenders have retired.

The Star also examined an additional case heard by the College in 2003 that is now before the courts in Brampton. That is a very long delay. Richard Krill, who over a period of 25 years, was transferred him three times to other schools by  the Peel District School Board.

At the time of the writing of this article, Knill is currently facing criminal charges for sexual assault and sexual exploitation of two female students. The Peel District School Board first became aware of allegations that Knill was sexually abusing his students in 1992. Alas, it is possible that the case will be withdrawn since the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that any case that hasn’t come to trial by 30 months must be withdrawn.

Knill, now 53, was licensed to teach in 1991 and began working as a science teacher at Meadowvale Secondary School in Mississauga. He also coached wrestling for high school students at several schools during his career.

He was the coach who coordinated donations for one of his high school wrestlers. However, the student gave up his role on fundraising enough money to go to the world championships in Istanbul. After a contentious high school wrestling match in 2009, he told the Toronto Star’s David Grossman that “at the end of the day, this is about the kids.”

But in 1992, a 15-year-old student said Knill kissed her while they were alone in his car, according to a 2003 College disciplinary decision. He was interviewed by a police officer “who warned the teacher with respect to placing himself in circumstances where allegations of inappropriate behaviour may occur. the decision said.

That fall, the same student said Knill kissed her again, and he was then charged. A college disciplinary decision says Knill was found not guilty.

In 1993, he began teaching at Bramalea Secondary School, Peel Regional Police said in a June 2017 press release. According to Peel District School Board, he was permanently placed at Bramalea in 1998 and was also the coach of the girls’ wrestling team.

In 2000, a school sports team, not named in College documents, was helping out with commencement activities at Bramalea Baptist Church.

Knill drove one of the 15-year-old members to the church, and on the way, she said he caressed her arm and massaged her neck, according to a College disciplinary decision. He put his hand on her collarbone and asked if she wanted to play then he moved his hand to her breast and rubbed it.

“While the vehicle was stopped at a traffic light, the member then leaned over, pulled down the front of the student’s top and started kissing and licking her left breast,” the college wrote in their disciplinary decision. The student previously reported this to another teacher three days later.

He was criminally charged with sexual assault and breach of trust, and again was found not guilty.

I should point out that it is very hard to get convictions for such offences because it comes down to a he said, she said scenario.

The College nevertheless suspended him for two months in 2003 when his case was heard and required him to be assessed by a psychiatrist, and to take a boundaries course.

He taught at the Chinguacousy Secondary School from 2002 to 2004, and the Turner Fenton Secondary School from 2004 until 2017.

In June, 2017, he was criminally charged for the sexual exploitation of a 17-year-old girl who was a student at the Turner Fenton Secondary School. After that charge was announced, a woman came forward with allegations after decades of silence.

Knill is now facing additional charges for sexual exploitation and sexual assault related to a 1997 incident during his time at the Bramalea Secondary School. Peel Regional police are appealing for any other victims to come forward, as the police continue their investigation.

Knill is (at the time of the writing of this article) on an unpaid leave, the Peel District School Board said, and is out on bail awaiting his next court appearance in January 2018. His lawyer, Bianca Bell, said her client would not be providing any comment to the Toronto Star.

The Peel District School Board would not confirm if Knill was transferred between all four schools because of the allegations, “as this is a personnel matter,” said spokesperson Kayla Tishcoff in a statement.

Tishcoff said that transfers were not a common disciplinary practice at the school board. “Each situation is considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the nature of the incident we are dealing with,” she wrote.

A number of school boards told the Toronto Star that disciplinary transfers were “rare,” or didn’t usually happen in their system. These transfers are an open secret in the education world.

The Peel District School Board, like most other boards surveyed by the Star, does not have a dedicated policy on how disciplinary transfers are handled. The transferred teacher’s performance would be monitored by a supervisor, who along with the superintendent, would be informed of the teacher’s past, Tishcoff said.

The Toronto Star surveyed 20 public and Catholic school boards province-wide about their policies on administrative or disciplinary transfers. Those 20 boards make up over a quarter of the provincial total, and include some of Ontario’s largest education systems.

Apparently there was no uniform approach. None had dedicated policies. Some rely on collective agreement language that allows for transfers. Some named transfers as a step in progressive discipline. School boards are either keeping the data on the number of disciplinary transfers a secret or, more commonly, not tracking them at all.

And the level of disclosure to principals isn’t the same across Ontario. While many Boards have the option of telling the principal of a teacher’s new school about their past however, only four surveyed actually require it.

“In most cases, our principals would not know why teachers had been transferred,” said Peggy Sweeney, a spokesperson from the Ontario Principals Council, in an email.

Two retired principals spoke to the Toronto Star on condition of anonymity, due to potential legal repercussions from their former employers.

One retired principal recalled two instances when his board transferred a teacher to his school and didn’t tell him why.

He said, “My school wasn’t his first stop, believe it or not of the first case, which involved sexual harassment of colleagues. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

The second teacher had been transferred following allegations of a sexual nature from students. The retired principal said that within three months of this offending teacher’s arrival, he was investigated again. The teacher was subsequently transferred to another school.

“I was totally compromised,” the retired principal said. “You have these predators that are in the school system, and everybody wants to give them a chance, but nobody says ‘ok, that’s enough.’”

A second Ontario principal who spoke to the Toronto Star on condition of anonymity said that administrators will often share what little information they have about a teacher’s past with one another unofficially.

About one third of the cases reviewed by the Toronto Star involved allegations of sexual abuse, and roughly the same number of teachers faced allegations of emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse. At least six cases involved some kind of physical abuse, including hitting or rough-handling of students.

Three of the 27 cases involved criminal charges against teachers at least one time, for an incident related to a student, and two teachers faced criminal charges for an incident related to a colleague.

The Toronto District School Board, is the country’s largest school board with approximately 246,000 students in 583 schools.  Safety of students and staff is paramount, according to spokesperson, Ryan Bird.

He also said, “The board does not have a specific policy in place for transfers as each case is unique and is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.  

The board disciplined Riaz Khamis, a Toronto District School teacher, after girls in his school accused him of touching them and making inappropriate comments in 2008.

Khamis was sent home for three days, and then transferred to another school in the same  School Board.

Five years later, he pleaded guilty at the Teachers College to allegations of professional misconduct, where an agreed statement of facts included taking non-consensual photographs of his students at the new school, and storing them with downloaded images of naked women on a phone he allowed students to access.

A group of four female students discovered the photos and banded together to report him to their principal. Khamis was then reported to the college’s disciplinary committee, who called his case “very disturbing.”

“The committee further t00k note and was troubled by the fact that, in 2008, the member had been suspended by his school board and administratively transferred to another school for similar professional misconduct,” the College decision stated.

Khamis was required to take a course on professional boundaries with students and was not given a suspension by the College.

The College said in part, “The case at bar involved very serious misconduct, and appears to be indicative of a pattern,”  

The committee struggled with approving the penalty as jointly proposed by the parties, due to the fact that that was the second instance of misconduct.

Khamis now teaches at Scarborough’s Woburn Collegiate Institute, still with the Toronto District School Board. Khamis declined to comment on his case when reached by Toronto Star reporters at his home.

In Toronto’s Catholic board, Francesco Ciraco sexually assaulted his colleague inside the school elevator in April 2009. When the two were inside, he kissed his colleague, cupped her breast, squeezed her buttock, and began to kiss the exposed portion of her right breast, according to the college disciplinary decision. She pushed him away. He was sent home for three days and transferred to a new school.

Ciraco was charged criminally and found guilty in court for the assault, the college’s disciplinary decision said. He requested a retrial, where he was found guilty again. But Ciraco received an absolute discharge which is a finding of guilt without registering a conviction or giving a criminal record, which may be done in Canada in the best interests of the accused where it’s not contrary to public interest.

Ciraco’s period of probation had been successfully served, the College wrote. With his probation, Ciraco was given a common law peace bond that prohibited direct and indirect contact with his victim.

The College found Ciraco guilty of professional misconduct and he was suspended for six months. He is still employed as a Toronto Catholic teacher at Our Lady of the Assumption in north Toronto, as of this year.

When Anthony John Park of Durham Catholic District School Board was accused of inappropriate interactions with two female students on a field trip in 2004, he was made to take a “psychiatric and sexological evaluation,” by the Board. He was also transferred to another school.

The Board’s superintendent of human resources commented  to Park at the time of his hearing, according to the College’s disciplinary decision. “The board hopes that you will take advantage of this opportunity to make a fresh start,”  

Four years later, the disciplinary decision says, he was fired after making continued sexual comments towards his students including telling a young girl he’d warm her up instead of her going to get a sweater, describing plants in class in inappropriate and sexual ways (“A stem is long, sometimes it goes hard, sometimes it’s soft”) and pointing out that he could see a girl’s underwear.

There is legislation in place to prevent students from being abused by their teachers. Bill 37, the Protecting Students Act, requires that teachers have their licenses automatically revoked by the college in cases of sexual abuse against their students.

However, the terms of the revocation only apply to the most heinous and explicit acts. If the sexual abuse isn’t intercourse, sodomy, masturbation, child pornography, or any of the following contacts — genital-to-genital, genital-to-oral, anal-to-genital, and oral-to-anal then the province doesn’t require a teacher’s license to be revoked.

Teachers who are found guilty by the College of other acts they define as sexual abuse, including sexual touching and remarks of a sexual nature, can continue to teach after being disciplined.

I believe that sexual touching, such as fondling a girl’s breasts, buttocks or vagina should result in the teacher’s licence being revoked. This also applies if a teacher fondles a boy’s penis, his testicles  and his buttocks.

These charges should be non-negotiable. Parents certainly do not want these deviates who have engaged in sexual abuse of their children in their classrooms to remain in their children’s classrooms.  

In some cases, unions will step in to advocate for a teacher accused of the sexual abuse of students. That was the case for Luc Bernard Lemieux who was a teacher in central southwestern Ontario.

Between the years 2004 and 2010, at least five students were subject to Lemieux’s sexual abuse according to  the College that wrote in its 2015 disciplinary decision. According to an agreed statement of facts, Lemieux would comment on his students’ breasts, saying “as long as they’re big enough for a handful and small enough for a mouthful,” and suggested to all of the girls on one of the school’s teams “that they wear only sports bras to practice.”

“I would like to think a boy like me would have a chance with a girl like you,” he told one female student, the decision said.

He gave students gifts of silver necklaces and bouquets of roses, offered a girl alcohol at his home, told girls he loved them, asked if they had feelings for him, lent them his debit card and cellphone and sent them numerous personal emails and texts.

Lemieux eventually pleaded no contest to the allegations against him, acknowledging to the college that the alleged conduct constituted sexual abuse. The Board told the Toronto Star that their union;  the Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens became involved in their investigation into Lemieux before it reached the College level.

“The Board was also involved in an arbitration to respond to a grievance filed by the union,” board spokesperson Claire Francoeur wrote. “Consequently, the Board has complied with the arbitrator’s decision which effectively reinstated the teacher.” Lemieux was subsequently transferred to a new Viamonde school in 2011.

Francoeur wrote, “The board conducted itself fairly and properly. It relied on the legal advice it received at every step in the process,” It was also bound by decisions made by the College and by an arbitrator.”

The College issued disciplinary orders for Lemieux including a course on “maintaining appropriate boundaries” and supervision of students and an 18-month suspension. By then, Lemieux had already been teaching in his new school for five years, with no recorded incidents to their knowledge.

He is currently a teacher at Windsor’s École secondaire de Lamothe-Cadillac, for students in Grades 7 to 12. Lemieux declined to comment on his case when reached by the Toronto Star.

MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) Sattler said she didn’t think unions left administrators with their hands tied. But she was distressed by the cases the Toronto  Star identified.

Scarfo, the professor from OISE, believes that the solution shouldn’t be to move a problematic teacher. He said,  “One wrong just creates another wrong by transferring. I don’t think the answer is to transfer them, but as I said, to deal with it.”

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader and education critic Patrick Brown echoed the following concern. “A scenario where a repeat offender continues to get access to vulnerable children in the classroom is completely unacceptable,”

The Ministry of Education did not directly address the Toronto Star’s questions related to disciplinary transfers. In a written response, ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin said teacher discipline practices were strengthened in the recent Protecting Students Act, which “improves the flow of information and prioritizes student safety.”

Irwin said, “It’s also important to note that school boards in Ontario, as individual employers, are responsible for all aspects of human resources administration,”

The Ontario College of Teachers said if a teacher was going to be transferred for any reason between schools, it was the responsibility of their Board to forward any pertinent information to the new school’s administration.

“The College has no jurisdiction with respect to the human resources policies of individual employers,” spokesperson  Gabrielle Barkany wrote.

In 1996, the traumatic case of Sault Ste. Marie teacher Kenneth DeLuca shook the provincial government into action. DeLuca pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting 13 female students at five schools over two decades.
Retired Judge Sydney L. Robins wrote, after the Ontario government commissioned him to conduct a review into teacher sexual misconduct because of DeLuca. “DeLuca easily moved from school to school, leaving behind emotionally wounded victims, with a fresh opportunity to victimize others.”

Robins proposed 101 strategies to prevent repeat offenders. His solutions, he wrote, would be enhanced by “clear and unequivocal policy statements.”

Scarfo said a provincial policy coming down from the ministry to all Ontario boards would be helpful in allowing them to rethink how they handle administrative transfers, and implement procedures for it.
“How could this abuse have gone unchecked for 20 years?” Robins wrote 20 years ago. “What can be done to ensure that this will not happen again?”

The answer is obvious. If a teacher is accused of sexually abusing  a  student in a manner that it has become a criminal act, the teacher should be suspended and the Teachers College should very soon after, hold a disciplinary hearing. If the College is convinced that the crime was in fact committed, the teacher should have his or her licence immediately revoked and the matter turned over to the police.

If the abuse is less serious such as making improper comments or suggestions to a student, the teacher should be suspended and required to seek psychiatric help and not returned to teaching unless his or her psychiatrist is convinced that the abuse won’t occur again. That teacher should then be transferred to another school with the principal of the other school being fully aware of the reasons for the transfer.  

I am against publishing the name of that particular offender and the offence since it will cause problems for him or her in the new school which will serve no justifiable  purpose at all.  


No comments: